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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Music To Write By

I don't think I'm the only one to use music to get me in the mood for writing. In fact, some novelists add to the back page a playlist of the tunes they have used while creating their works of genius.

The thing is, quite a lot of my writing has been done outside the house. This, for example, is being written on the Watergardens train, on the way to my first day at work for 2015. So it's done to the music of train whistles, powered doors closing and wheels on the rails. I wrote most of Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly at the Presse Cafe in Elwood, because at the time I was on dialup and I had used most of my twenty hours per month of download time; the Presse has free wifi - and no background music, thank heaven!

But I do have days - and late nights - when I set up my laptop in the living room, put on the kettle and get stuck into my latest WIP. At those times, I like to get in the mood with the appropriate music or even, occasionally, movie.

If I'm writing a mediaeval fantasy, for example, I might play some early music. That can sometimes be a problem because I used to learn Renaissance dance and a sprightly galliard tune will get me out of my seat and doing galliard variations, or a pavane to the Boar's Head Carol. Actually, you really need a partner to do the pavane properly, but never mind. I do it, and it takes me away from the writing. Not for long, though, and when I return I'm energised and keen to write more.

For a battle scene I like epic film music, Miklos Rosza or Elmer Bernstein for preference, but Howard Shore's Lord Of The Rings music will do nicely.

When I was working on the edits for Wolfborn, my mediaeval werewolf novel, I put on my DVD of  Ladyhawke, that lovely film in which two lovers are cursed never to be together because he's a wolf by night and she's a hawk by day, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't influence me. The music isn't mediaeval style, but it sets the right mood.

Monday I absolutely had to finish my first draft of the bushranger story I'm submitting to Ford Street. I'd been stuck halfway, even though I knew how it was ending. I thought the appropriate score would be some Australian folk songs, but I don't have any. Well, I do have one or two CDs somewhere on my shelves that are along those lines, but not quite. Next best was Irish folk music, and maybe some Scottish. And I had CDs of The Chieftains, the Bothy Band and Silly Wizard. There are also Clannad and Loreena McKennett, but they don't have quite the same flavour, too much singing, not enough of the traditional instruments. I needed music that might have been heard by Frank Gardiner and his merry men, penny whistle, fiddle, accordion, bodhran...

It was amazing how easily I managed to finish the draft while that music was playing. It worked so well, I managed a second draft.

I wonder, now, if playing music will help me choose a title...



  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Bothersome Words" And Fan Fiction

While Googling today, I came across an article about lessons you can learn from writing fan fiction. I have written about the subject before, but this lady - I have met her at a con or two, but can't recall her actual name, though I follow her on Twitter - has written such a very good post on the subject of what professional writers can learn from fan writers that I think I will let you check in out through this link. She does say that quite a lot of professional writers are doing this anyway, but in general, it's a good thing todo, and, at its best, fan fiction does it.

At its worst, of course, that's another matter. And there is quite a lot of "worst". As a lover of history, I remember cringing at some of the Robin Of Sherwood fan fiction I read. And sometimes the authors found a historical nugget and forced it into their otherwise not-very-good story. And the number of writers who did the White Goddess thing made me roll my eyes.

But still, there are a lot of positive things about how people work on fanfic, so wander across and read this article. I put in a couple of comments at the time, several months ago. :-)

Eugowra Story - First Draft Finished!

After having missed out on Cranky Ladies Of History because my heroine might not have qualified as a lady(I think she did, but never mind. I'm thinking of ways to turn the story into fantasy and try selling it elsewhere) I allowed myself to be sucked into historical fiction again, because Ford Street has published two pieces of historical fiction by me and if Paul Collins wants a bushranger story, I am willing to have a go at writing one. I think I've posted about this before, but today I finished my first draft of a children's story about the robbery of the gold coach near Eugowra Rocks in NSW in 1862.

The thing is, I wrote about the Eugowra gold robbery in Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly. I did a bit of research for that. It was one of fifty main stories and around the same number of "Did You Knows?" and each story was researched as well as I could, at least two sources, if not more.

And I still got a bit of it wrong. I can only plead that I did read more than one source and that there were around a hundred stories to look up!  If you read the book, you will see me mention a farmer and his son whose dray was used to block the road during the robbery. Well, the son was there, a young boy called George Burgess, who was given some money by the bushrangers after the robbery and spent the lot on sweets, which lasted him two weeks. But he wasn't there with his father - his father sent him along with a driver called Richard, or Dick, Bloomfield. When George was an old man, long after the event, he wrote about it. It was a short, very matter-of-fact, account, but it was definitely straight from the horse's mouth, even describing what Frank Gardiner the bushranger was wearing.

I used that, of course. This story is surprisingly well documented. There's not only George's account, but newspaper reports of the trials of the men who did the holdup, from almost right after the event onwards. So I will be going back to read the newspaper articles again, in case I missed something, before I hand in my story.

What fascinated me is that bushrangers weren't necessarily out in the bush all the time. I have no doubt that there were members of the community who wandered off to commit a crime now and then, and I bet everyone knew it. There were also those who didn't actually go out and rob, but who were well paid to pass on information to the robbers.

How to make the story interesting to a child reader? I don't know. I hope I have, but that's why I want a few days before I submit. I tried to put in a touch of humour - after all, no one actually died during this robbery, though some of the bushrangers were executed, but that was later. And the bushrangers gave each of the seven men/boys they had stopped before the robbery a pound and something to drink. Okay, the money and the grog were ill-gotten gains, but they didn't have to. And I don't know about you, but if I had just been held up and forced to wait through a crime, I'd be needing a drink too! Apparently, one of the men was a swagman, presumably one who had asked someone for a lift and was regretting it. Whether or not this was the case, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time - maybe if he was on foot, he would have been behind the coach.

The odd thing is, there were two mounted troopers who might have defended the coach, but they were a few miles ahead and didn't find out about the robbery till they reached Orange. That's what George Burgess says, anyway.

So, the story goes away for a day or two, even though I'll be back at work, so I can look at it with fresh eyes, and fingers crossed that Paul takes it, because I really don't see how I can make this one into fantasy or SF in hopes of selling it elsewhere! 

Book Club Nerd Pack Makes Me Proud!

My Nerd Pack book clubbers' results have come through and I am not surprised, but very proud all the same. Selena, who helped me read CBCA shortlist books and interviewed author Charlie Higson for this site got into Science at Melbourne University. Thando, who interviewed Juliet Marillier for me and was never without a huge pile of reading matter, is now a student at Latrobe University, where she hopefully will not have to leave home at 6.30 am. Both these girls have Western Chances scholarships, by the way. And deservedly.

Ryan got into an Engineering course at RMIT, Dylan will be studying Science at Deakin.

 My dragon lover, Kristen, who made me a beautiful book trailer for Wolfborn, got what I know she has long dreamed of doing, an advanced baking course at William Angliss, Melbourne's top tertiary institution for hospitality studies. I know Kristen has always wanted to become a baker and she told me on the night of the Year 12 formal that William Angliss was her first choice. Now, THIS is a girl who will have to get up early for her chosen career! I'm sure she is fine with that, even if it means having to get a car and not being able to read on the way to work.

Please, guys, keep reading for pleasure! I am so proud of you all.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Australia's Favourite Authors - Final List!

Today the final list of Australia's Favourite Writers, as voted by readers, appeared on Booktopia. Here's the link.

  http://blog.booktopia.com.au/2015/01/23/australias-favourite-author-2015-the-top-10-nearly/

Go check it out, because each one on the list has a detailed blurb and a link to their website. All I'm giving you here is the list, in the order they gave it.

10. John Marsden
9. Mem Fox
8. Markus Zusak
7. Andy Griffiths
6. Monica McInerney
5. Kerry Greenwood
4. Matthew Reilly
3. Tim Winton
2. Liane Moriarty
John Flanagan

Of this list four are children's or YA novelists - the Johns, Flanagan and Marsden(though Mr Marsden has just published his first adult book), Mem Fox and Andy Griffiths - and of the rest, four have at least written something for children or teens at some stage - Kerry Greenwood, Markus Zusak, Matthew Reilly and Tim Winton. (Actually, should we add Markus Zusak to the mostly-YA list? What do you think, readers?)  Only two on the list are not, as far as I know, associated at all with books for younger readers. I can live with that.

A lot of our students will be pleased to see that Andy Griffiths is in the list. He wins year after year on the YABBA Awards, for which children vote. Such a nice man, too! I met him last time I was at the Awards and he gave me, as a gift, the new edition of his Schooling Around series, which had just come out, for my library. And signed them. The kids were thrilled.

I was very pleased to see that the top of the list was the wonderful John Flanagan, author of the delightful Ranger's Apprentice and Brotherband series. He has fans of every age, but the books are mostly  middle grade. They are funny and touching, exciting and have lovely characters. They're technically fantasy, but only technically. There's no magic in them that I can recall, except the magic of the writing. But the worldbuilding is great. I remember hearing him speak about his first book, The Ruins Of Gorlan, just before it came out, at one of the State Library's Booktalkers events. Who would have thought back then that the series would end up so successful, with the author top of the list of Australia's favourite writers?

I love genre fiction for adults, but in the end, I rarely read anything but books for young readers. They depend on good storytelling and characterisation, not on "beautiful writing". I know which I'd rather read.

Congratulations to everyone who was on the list - you deserve it! 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Belated Appreciate A Dragon Day

I discovered, too late, that January 16 was Appreciate A Dragon Day. Pity I missed it, but no reason not to celebrate the wonderful dragon! 

 It's meant to be used in class, but I don't have classes yet, so here's my celebration of dragons. Traditionally the western dragon has been a symbol of greed. It collects and sits on hoards of gold, silver and gems, just because. Think of all those legendary dragons. Think of fictional ones such as Smaug.  In Christian legend, it has negative religious connotations. At the same time, it turns up on heraldic devices, so it can't be all that bad, or at least it has positive elements.  

In modern fiction it has had a lot of good press. Anne McCaffrey's Pern books. My late friend Jan Finder was written into one of them, as a harper.


                                                       

Temeraire. How about Rachel Hartman's Seraphina, a musically gifted young girl who is also a dragon? (Apparently, it started life as a graphic novel and the author wasn't good at drawing dragons, so came up with this idea). I bought that one for my book clubber, Kristen, who is a mad keen dracophile. Eragon

                                                           


And what of Terry Pratchett's dragons? There are the small swamp dragons people keep as pets or as firelighters, and "Here Be Dragons" on the map of Ankh-Morpork gets you to Lady Sybil's Sunshine Sanctuary for dragons. There are also, early in the Discworld series, the dragons that only exist if you imagine them. If you lose concentration while in the air, you're in big trouble! 

                                                       
    
We had a wonderful short story in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine#39, "Dragon Bones" by Joanne Anderton. In this, members of the very Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service fly out on dragons. They're really winged and enlarged Australian lizards, but still, dragons. The heroine is very close with her beloved mount. If you can get hold if this issue, do. I think we might have a few copies left. The gorgeous cover art, based on this story,  was done by a U.S. artist who did her research beautifully.

Another Australian dragon story, which I am going to celebrate here, is Dragonkeeper by Carole Wilkinson, first of a series for children. In Han Dynasty China, a young girl, a slave without even her own name(later she becomes Ping) looks after the last of the imperial dragons in the royal menagerie. When she learns that there's a dragon hunter on his way, and with the female dead, she escapes with Danzi, the elderly male. The dragon is sentient and they communicate telepathically.  There is a stone which is very important to him and which he insists they carry with them on their journey. Probably you can work out what that stone is, but never mind. It's a beautiful story about friendship and a helluva terrific adventure. We've had this on our Literature Circles list since 2011, and most years at least one group has read it. 

                                                                             
                                                

I will probably think of plenty more dragons when I finish posting this, so what about you? Who has some favourite dragons?




Monday, January 19, 2015

In Which I See Into The Woods: The Movie!

                                                    
                                              Little Red Riding Hood, Walter Crane. 
                                              Public domain.
Yesterday I went to the city to meet a friend, enjoy the new upmarket food court where there used to be the Myer Lonsdale St branch and attend the Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibition at the gallery(and that deserves a post of its own, some tine. That man, a fashion designer who also designed the costumes for some well known movies, is very strange!)

And then, on my way home, I went to see a movie on an impulse. I don't get to do that very often. By the time a working day is over, I'm often too tired to do anything but go home, eat, wash up and go to bed with a book or a good DVD. If I do go out, I fall asleep; it wasn't till I started going to the opera at Saturday matinees that I realised Madama Butterfly has a suitor in the last scene while waiting for that louse Pinkerton to return. I'd always dozed off before that and woken shortly before she kills herself. 

So I went to a seven o'clock session of Into The Woods, which I had seen as a play some years ago. It's a Stephen Sondheim musical and if it's one of his, it will be tuneful, but it won't be Oklahoma! or Flower Drum Song. Nor will it be one of those rock operas that have dominated the musical play scene for the last twenty years or more. It's about fairy tales and how "happily ever after" doesn't always work out as you'd think it would. There is a whole act after the "happily ever after". Some characters die. Some are unfaithful. But they're very human.

The fairy tales used are Cinderella, Jack And The Beanstalk, Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. These are all mixed together and linked by the story of a baker and his wife(unnamed). The baker is the brother of Rapunzel, but was too young to remember her birth. He and his wife want a child, but can't have one due to a curse by the witch who took Rapunzel and she, in her turn, is under a curse, which she needs their help to lift, in exchange for which she offers to lift their curse. That leads three "into the woods" where they sell Jack the beans and try to acquire things from the other characters.

Messy, mixed up and delightful, and the film took it all off the stage and set it in a forest which was not a nice park. Red Riding Hood is usually played by an adult on stage, because there are sexual overtones. That was changed for the film and the character was played by a younger girl, but Johnny Depp still made a fabulously sneaky, slimy Big Bad Wolf. To be honest, he was one of the few actors I'd heard of - as I've said, I don't get to see too many movies these days, before they come to DVD. Meryl Streep was the Witch. Apparently, she has a "no witch" rule but made an exception for a Stephen Sondheim show.

I love the music of this show and while songs were left out, as they always are in film versions, this still felt like the stage show, but widened out.

Go and see it, but only if you don't mind seeing your fairy tales not quite the way you remember them.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

January 15: Happy Birthday, Dad!

My Dad, Ben Bursztynski, in his younger years

Today would have been my father's 90th birthday if he had still been alive. I miss him terribly, even after five years. My brother and his family returned from their overseas trip yesterday and today we drank to Dad in whiskey, a drink he loved.

Dad was a true "silver surfer" who discovered and adored the Internet in his later years. He was trying to write his memoir, but kept saying, "Oh, I just need to check up this or that thing I can't quite remember." He never got far with the memoir, but he had a wonderful time with the World Wide Web. Every morning he got up early to read the world's newspapers online. Every time I visited, he would be telling me something exciting he had read online that day. 

He learned to Google very quickly. Any member of his family who might be mentioned online he'd look up. I had to be careful what I posted, because he'd find it.

Dad was the head of my fan club and set up a "shrine" of book covers, newspaper articles and illustrations from my works. Once, when lining up to do a colour copy, he asked the lady in front of him for help in copying my book cover; she was Mitch Vane, my illustrator! How cool is that, eh?

He came along to my book launches, of course. I remember his enjoying the free food and booze at the Ford Street launch of Trust Me! and his cornering Kerry Greenwood at the launch of Crime Time, to talk about me, me and me again. Lucky Kerry is such a nice lady.

Anyway, today is his birthday and I had to celebrate it here.

January 15, 1925, was a Thursday, as it is this year. "Thursday's child has far to go" and yes, Dad went a long way from his birthplace in Poland, first to Germany, where he met and married my Mum, then to Israel, where the family lived for six years, finally to Australia. 

On This Day: 

Nothing literary. A lot of horrible stuff, including battles.
However, this day in 2001 was the birth of that very useful research tool, Wikipedia! 
1559: Crowning of Elizabeth I
1759: Opening of the British Museum. If you're in Melbourne go check out the State Library; it's designed to look like the BM. I remember when I was in London many years ago, I thought that the building, even inside, looked familiar...

Birthdays: 

1622: Moliere, that wonderful comic French playwright. 

1929: Martin Luther King! No explanation needed of who he was.

1935: Robert Silverberg, science fiction writer. My sister is a big fan of his. I've read some of his books, including Up The Line, a time travel story seen from the viewpoint of a time travel tour guide - great fun! The one I like best of those I have read is Gilgamesh The King, which I thought fascinating. 

1944: Jenny Nimmo, children's writer. I read and enjoyed her Snow Spider novels, one of which was made into a TV miniseries.

Happy birthday, Dad!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Booktopia And Australia's Favourite Author

This week, Booktopia's blog is running a vote for Australia's favourite author. There's a long list up on the web site.  It's an interesting mix of adult, YA and children's writers, including some classic writers such as Henry Lawson and Miles Franklin, some of the literary novelists and, among the children's and YA folk, the likes of Isobelle Carmody,  Garth Nix, John Flanagan, Shaun Tan, Graeme Base (okay, they're best known as artists, but both write their own picture story books), Juliet Marillier and Andy Griffiths. There are more, these are just the ones I've remembered off the top of my head.

You can vote for as many as you like and next week, at noon on Monday 19th, they will announce the top fifty and go on from there to the top one.

I voted only for those whose books I had read and enjoyed (mostly the YA and children's writers), which means I didn't put in too many votes for the literary novelists, even though I respect some of them. I'm just not into literary fiction.

Anyway, do visit the site, here, and put in your vote, even if you're outside of Australia, as long as you've read and loved some of the authors on the list.

Go on, vote now!